A few days ago, I was having a conversation with a café owner. He was talking about men in their 50’s who had left their marriages and started a new life with a much younger woman.
He was saying, “They all look the same, they say the same things, and what they said to their wives as they left was pretty much the same. Now they find themselves in a similar situation, none of them are happy and they are stuck with younger families”.
At first, I thought, “Wow! That is a pretty big generalisation.” Maybe it is true. I guess I have not hung out with enough men in that position to know. But it left me contemplating and wondering what it is all about.
As I ran this morning, something landed for me. Back when I was in my mid 30’s, I used to have this feeling that nagged at me. “When am I going to stop feeling like and overgrown teenager and start feeling like a Man?” At the time, my first marriage was all but over and I was CEO of a relatively new business struggling to make its way in the world where brand new markets needed to be forged and our potential customers were not really in a place where they felt a need for our product.
At the time, I was working crazy hours, struggling financially after being “crunched” by sky high interest rates from the 1989 recession, trying to be a good Dad and often in desperation trying to get my staff paid. I was taking short cuts, bullshitting a lot and hoping it would all get better.
Two things happened around that time. First, I started reading Self Development Books, and second, one of my employees, a brilliant and gentle guy, sat me down and told me some things I needed to hear. It was excruciatingly uncomfortable and humiliating, but it was one of the kindest things anyone had ever done for me.
Along the way, as I read, explored and contemplated my life, I realised that feeling like I had made it as a man wasn’t something that just happens one day. It was a decision I needed to make, to finally decide to leave my adolescence behind and be a man.
Until then, I have a sense I was running off my age old impressions of movie heroes, sporting super stars and iconic men in my society and in my life, whom I looked up to as being some sort of men who were more manly than other men. These men seemed to have a dominant presence in life, an aura of power and significance. I guess that, in my mind, you were not really a man until you were that.
But I realised something very simple. You do not have to be “The Man” to become “A Man”. It set me free and I felt I could relax and just be my version of a man and own my maturity and my masculinity.
So, I have a sense that some males aged 40 to 60 might still be trapped in this misunderstanding about their manhood. I imagine the same probably happens for women. I have a sense it has very little to do with gender and more about simply owning who we are and taking our place in the world.
I know that when I finally made that decision, I was able to then more easily feel more responsible and take greater responsibility. I also felt that the way I looked at life and events changed.
Now as I approach 60, I can feel that it is still a daily decision, to be a responsible adult male in the world. I train a lot and enjoy feeling as youthful as I can, but it is my maturity, wisdom, care and leadership that is perhaps more important to those around me in the world.
I have a sense now as to why Clint Eastwood makes so many movies these days, perhaps starting with “The Unforgiven” where he portrays men not as demigods like The Outlaw Josey Wailes or Dirty Harry Callaghan, but as vulnerable and often damaged men, seeking to find their place in the world. He perhaps realised that trying to be “Dirty Harry” has taken many good men down some dark allies.
It is such an interesting perspective. You don’t have to be “The Man” to become “A Man”!